Sunday, April 15, 2018

Well, This Is Three Wider.

Lovers of great comedy will excuse me for paraphrasing the mighty Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap, but I couldn't resist it; y'see, up to now, the widest angle lens I have ever used was a 24mm Nikkor, which is a bloody fantastic wee thing and has quickly become my semi-normalised (if there is such a thing) POV.
Well, this is Three Wider.

Read on!

You know sometimes, you see something, but it doesn't register for days, weeks, months or even years later? Well, I've had one of those moments recently and boy did I follow through with it.

I can't remember where I first saw a Hasselblad Super Wide camera, but it was love at first sight, and little did I know, in those pre-internet days, that the camera was the embodiment of optical quality par-excellence.
It was an expensive camera when I first saw one back in the early '80's and it remained so for its whole life. I, of course, instantly dismissed it as being far too expensive, and I never bothered looking at them - they were beyond me.
So there I was, one early Saturday morning (it was raining outside in that typical East coast gloom you get around here in the Winter) with nothing to do, save drink tea and look at cameras (as you do) and I saw one on Ffordes website at a not too bad (though still punishingly expensive) price and thought:

Wow - that looks like a semi-ideal walkabout camera. 

I had been thinking about a 'proper' Rollei for such uses for a while, but I liked the cut of the SWC/M's jib, and I filed it in my mind.
It's an odd-ball (but then so am I) and specialised to the point of perverseness, selling to architectural, aerial, copy, documentary and just plain curious photographers. 
I was I think, baffled by how little it could do, and I guess that was what salted down in my subconscious for a few days. But I couldn't get it out of my head, and one morning I came to the conclusion:

Feck It. 
Not getting any younger. 
Could be dead in a few years.

So I talked it over with my wife (as supportive of everything as ever!), spoke to the esteemable Steve Byford at Ffordes, thought some more, swallowed hard and bought it.

It was one of those moments.

As you'll know from reading FB I've used a fair number of cameras over the years and have a small collection of choice cameras which I enjoy using, but these days I find myself drifting increasingly away from 35mm (simply because I'll never print a tenth of what I photograph) and even 5x4 (because it seems like a young man's game: requires determination and grit and decent eyesight . . not to mention patience and a great deal of core strength - certainly that is the case of hauling one into the wilds!)
I think back to the simplicity of my early days of photographic rediscovery, when it was just me and Ollie The Rollie T and how simple everything was.
The powerful drive of only 12 or 16 shots on a roll of 120 film seems to be the embodiment of ease-of-use, supreme quality and a considered approach to photographing all kinds of things.
I am not saying I am giving up other formats, far from it, but for general day to day use, Medium Format seems to be my Ideal Format.

Yeah, so skip the guff Sheepy - worrabout th'camera la?

Well, the box arrived, beautifully packed, and there, nestled in the bubble, was a camera that was all Hasselblad, but not that much bigger than a 500C/M with film back but no lens attached.
In other words it is smallish and compact - at 6-and-a-half inches long, this is about half the size of a modern SLR with zoom.
It felt considerably lighter than a 500C/M, and handled really well, only the strange viewfinder (like an old Dickensian Shoppe Window [you know the sort of thing, all distortion]) caused me some dismay initially, but I sort of knew from the moment I picked it up that this was the machine for me.

It is basically a 6x6cm version of the famous Rollei 35 and other zone focusers . . .
Optically, Wide (with a Capital Waah), the 38mm f4 Biogon is a lens borne from aerial mapping and the equivalent of 21mm in 35mm lens terms; its supreme quality married to a light-tight box with an interchangeable film back - about as simple as they come, yet simpler than an Olympus Trip (because that has a light meter of sorts!)
You could even say it is more basic than even the cheapest 35mm compact from back in the day because it doesn't even have the luxury of frame-lines for parallax compensation in the finder - yet for all its shortcomings, it is a camera which a lot of quite well-known photographers have said 'defined their career'.

Actually, the camera's lore is hard to get over:
Harry Callahan and Lee Friedlander to name but two.

Apparently, back in the 1970's and 80's pretty much every single SWC/M was assembled by a single person - Florence,
I know nothing about her save that her skill and craftsmanship and attention to detail served to float several thousands of these cameras out into the world, to be appreciated, used and loved. 
It is strange thought actually, but I suppose no different than other small quantity cameras, except I have no names for the Gandolfis and Alpas and Wistas of this world. Nor names for the skilled that used to work in the larger factories like Leica and Nikon, Pentax and Olympus et al.
A single model of camera being assembled by just one person is quite unusual, so, Florence it is.

Flo is no spring chicken - she was made in 1982, but that (to me) has a happenstance to it - it was the year Joe McKenzie properly took me and my compadres under his wing and started teaching us how to print and see the world.
There were a few marks on the body, though it was the older (1978) film holder that had sustained the most damage, but as I later found out, both body, lens, shutter and film back had been serviced recently, which was reassuring.
The optics were beautifully clean externally, but I found a small mark on the inner elements which worried me a bit, however after having words with Ffordes (who assured me everything was fine) I was determined to test her out - the mark was worrying (not fungus, as lens had been cleaned . . . the loose finger of a careless technician maybe???).
If I could provoke that mark into action that would be a bad thing, because my problem was that me and Flo had already bonded. Little did I know when I opened the box, that this Optical Orphan was looking for a good home, and like a bowl of cat food to a lost kitten on a Winters night, my warm greeting was enough for the camera to decide, I was the one that would look after it!
So, provoke I did . . . and you know what? could I heck get it to produce any veiling flare (the sort you get with haze or marks on inner or rear elements) at all.
Shooting into bright Winter sunshine produced a modicum . . . just like I would have expected with any camera as you can see from the results below.

Hasselblad SWC/M, Ilford HP5, Pyrocat-HD

The flare on this is as expected with the sun in the frame, but the big chunk at the lower right is a result of me holding the negative in its sleeve up to window and snapping with Sony A6000.
It is not a product of the camera.
So, Round 1 goes to Flo and boy was I excited by now!

More next time, as I try to get my head and technique around a camera that is seemingly so  simple, yet also incredibly hard to use . . .

Incredibly for FB, I am going to leave it there for the moment . . . I know you're getting tired and the nurse will be here soon with your tablets and so on . . and look, tonight, there's entertainment!
A memory therapy thing, so it's you, thirty old ladies and a charming singer called Michael, revisiting the great toe-tappers of the 60's!!
He's promising medleys from Dusty and Tom and The Bachelors and Freddie and the Dreamers and every wonderful hit from the era you can think of!
They said there might even be dancing.
Me? I'm staying in my room and putting on In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

SWC/M, Ilford HP5, Pyrocat-HD, Ilford MGRC.


  1. Let's see the pics! The "hound in the park" shot has whetted the appetite for more. It was interesting to read that the extreme specialisation of the camera is one of its attractions. Specialised Wee Camera? I wonder if you'd get the same feeling limiting yourself to the 500mm mirror lens on your Nikon F3. In a weird way I can see that working as well.

  2. There'll be a part two and three Bruce, so hold onto your hat!

    Gosh, the F3 and a 500 mirror - yes, quite a thought - you've nailed my extremities of focal length!
    Actually, the 500 is a fine lens if you like doughnuts, I've just never used it much at all.

  3. Short and sweet.

    I'm all for wide angle as long as the wideness of the angle and the resultant image distortion doesn't become the dominant feature.

    Bill Brandt could do it with his naked ladies on a beach, but for me as soon as the artifice is apparent and the means by which it is achieved explained, then it somehow loses its potency. We are invited to applaud the means rather than the ends, the equipment becomes the star instead of the image.

    I guess I'm somewhat soured by the endless pictures in local papers of groups of people taken close up with super wide lenses such that those on the edge of the image have laterally elongated heads, looking for all the world like they are subject to the extreme gravity of a nearby black hole.

    In that example you lay before us, yes it's wide. But no, the distortion is not unpleasant nor unnatural looking. Top quality optics in the hands of an artist. I wait, breath bated, to see what great things will transpire from the partnership of Flo and Sheephouse.


  4. Congratulations on the purchase. I'm looking forward to seeing parts 2 and 3. I'm barely proficient with a 28mm equiv. lens, so 21 would be a bit beyond me at the moment.

  5. Thanks Marcus - yes parts two and three should detail more.
    You really need to get in close!


Feel Free To Chat,
But Remember,
"Anonymous" Comments WILL NOT Be Published